Hate Running? Use Software Sprints To Lose Weight

You’re at the office. Everything had been going so well this morning. You navigated the doughnuts, the pain au chocolat, but then you walk into a meeting room and see it. Some generous bastard has brought cookies. There they are, naked and uncensored, right in front of your face. And god-dammit, they are the triple chocolate kind. Your favourite.

Well now you can barely hear what anyone else is saying because those little pricks are calling your name. Stay strong, you tell yourself. But man, they just look so tempting. And you’ve been so good recently, surely just one can’t hurt?

Look, everyone else is having one.

So you take a cookie, you eat it, and it’s awesome.

But now for the rest of the meeting you can barely hear what anyone is saying because you’re so disappointed with yourself.

I have no willpower. I can’t trust myself to be good.

So later that evening, when no one is around, you have at it.

Ice cream is devoured, tubs at a time, chocolate is inhaled by the bagful. Your stomach is so full, you can barely breathe anymore. And, yeah, after you have consumed, shame and regret consumes you.

You’re faced with this weird paradox. All you want is to lose fat, so why the hell do you keep doing this to yourself? You’re a logical person; this behaviour makes no sense. You figure there’s something wrong with you. A compiler error, a dangling pointer. Maybe you’re insane.

Somehow you fall asleep, and promise yourself you’ll do better tomorrow.

 

You’re Not Alone: The What The Hell Effect

This seemingly illogical behaviour has been the finding of many studies. Here’s just one:

Dieters and Non-dieters compare ice cream flavours [Polivy, Herman, 1999]

Before getting any ice cream, each group (dieters and non-dieters) were separated into 3 subgroups. Group A were asked to drink 2 milkshakes. Group B were asked to drink 1 milkshake. Group C were not given any milkshake.

 

Each group then got 3 flavours of ice cream. They were told to rate the flavours, and eat as much ice cream as they wanted.

The Results:

  • Non-dieters: those who hadn’t had any milkshake consumed the most ice cream; those who had 2 milkshakes consumed the least. Sounds obvious, right?
  • Dieters reacted the opposite way: those who had no milkshake ate small amounts of ice cream, those who drank 1 shake ate more ice cream, and those who’d consumed 2 milkshakes ate the most ice cream.

While non-dieters tend to regulate their consumption according to internal cues of hunger and satiety, dieters lose the capacity to regulate their intake. So, when the milkshake counters the dieter’s restrained eating, it’s almost like a switch. The researchers call this the What The Hell effect, which occurs as a result of the diet mentality: “What the hell, I’ve blown it anyway, I might as well keep eating before I get back on my diet tomorrow.”

So imagine your goal is to lose fat, and you have implemented a “no sugar” rule, and then you eat a cookie. Eating a cookie is actually in line with your big picture goal of fat loss (eating a single cookie would never be a problem for fat loss). However, your brain has replaced the long term outcome goal (lose fat) with your day-to-day process goal (no sugar). So, since you’ve broken the “no sugar” goal, it feels like you’ve broken the whole thing.

This is why a single cookie can trigger a catastrophe. If there’s no way you can reach your goal for the day, your brain won’t use energy trying to do it. It thinks you’ve already lost. And when you lose perspective like this — when there is clear black and white, all or nothing thinking — how many cookies you eat no longer matters. Couple this with the natural desire to want to soothe yourself through these tricky emotions, and a single cookie can turn into a 3-day bender, with all the self talk that goes along with it:

Something is wrong with me.

I’m addicted to food.

I’m out of control.

I’m disgusted with myself.

 

This mindset can be triggered not only when you’ve eaten a “forbidden” food. It can be triggered:

  • In anticipation of breaking your diet (for example, if you’re going out for dinner that evening and you know what you eat won’t be your ideal meal).
  • Because of an emotion: you feel fat, sad, happy, anxious, or even thin.
  • When you eat something that you had previously “forbidden”.

So what can you do about this?

Eat What You Want

The first step is to stop banning foods. Making foods, or entire food groups, forbidden just makes them more enticing. Your body will then crave them physically and psychologically. So when you finally do give in, you’ll cram in as much as you can, because tomorrow you’ll be banning the food all over again.

When there’s a limited resource, demand becomes incredibly high.

So, please, stop banning foods. Stop dieting.

I know that reinstating food can be extremely scary, but trust me: you can eat what you want and still lose fat; you just need to learn how.

Use An Instant Reset

Normally, once we “blow our diet”, we keep eating until the next starting point, which is usually the next day. But what if we could change the next starting point so we can reset sooner?

Think about software sprints. The day after the kick-off, everyone is much more focussed than they had been at the end of the sprint. It’s always quiet, loads of work is getting done. It’s like everyone has been reset. You can use the same idea – divide your day into sprints to reset yourself sooner.

So take a piece of paper and divide your day into 5 time boxes. These don’t have to be evenly spaced, but they should represent the natural transitions of your day.

Here’s one example, from AM to PM:

This might differ from day to day, depending on your schedule.

Now, one of these chunks will be your hot spot (8-9pm in the above example). This is the time of day that is really tough. It’s when you’re less resourceful to navigate a food-related moment. It’s when the desire to eat is most intense.

Maybe this is once you get home from work. Maybe it’s lunch time. Maybe it’s late at night.

Whenever it is, just by acknowledging the specific time that you struggle, will help you.

The purpose of these boxes is three-fold. Firstly, even if you “go off the rails”, the next time box acts as a reset point. An autosave.

The normal reaction is to reset the next day, or at the beginning of the week. But if you make the next time box your reset, you can dramatically reduce the amount of calories consumed between now and tomorrow.

You can say to yourself:

OK, that was a tough moment. I didn’t use the skills I’m learning to navigate that situation. But it’s OK. My next reset is in 20 minutes. I’m going to wipe the slate clean and forget what happened. All that matters is this present moment.

 

If you can make these time boxes your automatic resets, then you will be well on the way to learning to forgive yourself more often, to get back up much quicker, to strengthen your mental resilience so that no matter what knocks you down, you will know that you can get through it.

Secondly, I want you to rate each time box between -5 and +5, using the following scale:

 

+5 Perfect day

+4

+3

+2
+1

0

-1

-2

-3

-4

-5 Ended up in hospital to get my stomach pumped

 

This is useful to help maintain perspective. It is so easy to exaggerate how badly we are doing.

For example, say the day was going well, then when you got home, you ate a cookie, and then a few more. Your previous thinking might have been “I’ve completely blown this whole day”. But by writing down and rating your time boxes individually, you can maintain perspective.

The third advantage of your boxes is that you have now recognised which time you are most vulnerable. This means you can plan and strategize how best to navigate this time of day.

You could schedule something to do during that time, like catching up with a friend, or going for a walk. You can take extra care to be kind to yourself.

To Sum It Up

  • Diets don’t work because they cause you to lose touch with the internal signals for hunger and satiety that are necessary for normal eating over the long term.
  • To be at ease with your body — to be able to listen to true hunger signals, and not be fooled by the fake ones —  is a skill. You can relearn this skill.

 

What To Do Next

  • The first step is to stop restricting foods. Even if this feels scary, it is the quickest way to get your out-of-control eating back under control.
  • Chunk your day into sprints, and use each sprint as an instant reset if you overeat.
  • Take extra care around the time of day that you are most vulnerable. Strategize and plan other activities around this time.

Want more? Download my free Fully Loaded Eating Double Pack. It contains my 2 best Essential Guides: What to do when you overeat, and Instant Willpower: how to reprogram cravings, stop inhaling chocolates by the truckload, and lose weight like a hero.

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You Are Enough

How much pressure are you putting on yourself? You tell yourself you have to work hard, you have to have an amazing body. You need to be that great employee, colleague, brother, sister, friend, lover.

But what if you are already enough?

What if this body, that is capable of love, kindness, warmth, compassion, what if that is enough to live a human life?

This isn’t about giving up on your hopes, dreams, and goals. It’s about accepting who you are (and who you are not), then finding the self-compassion to allow yourself to move forward.

What if you could re-frame your thoughts?

Instead of

“I will only be happy when I achieve ______

What if you told yourself

I am happy right now because I am moving towards ______“.

 

Maybe then, there would be space to breathe.

And with those breaths, maybe you could finally start living.

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Say Thank You More

I thought the maths exam was so good that I emailed the exam board to tell them what a great variety of problems there were, and how fair I thought it was.

Wow. I would never think to do that.”

I always make it a point to say thank you to those who deserve it. In this case, I imagine very few students say thank you for the exams.

Yeah, I bet.

I got a very nice response, thanking me for my own feedback.

That’s cool. I’m sure they really appreciated it.

This is a conversation I had with a friend of mine (Jack) when I was around 15 or 16 years old. This conversation changed me. I was blown away by how kind and thoughtful Jack was, that I decided from then on to always make sure I thanked everyone, too.

I thank people with words, with hugs. I email companies if they’ve done a particularly excellent job. I have written letters to friends who have impacted my life in a big way. I have illustrated cards and recorded myself singing/playing an instrument, all in the name of gratitude.

For instance, here’s a card I sent a friend, to say thank you. (He’s a pianist, and this work is actually fan-art of the stunning Le Pianoquarium by Aqua Sixio):

Why have I spent time doing this?

Firstly because I enjoy it. I enjoy making things for people. I already like to create, and I constantly want to improve: I often find my motivation levels are highest when I create for someone else. As John Green said:

Every single day I get emails from aspiring writers asking how to become a writer and here’s the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money, it will never make you enough money. Don’t make stuff because you want to get famous because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts. Maybe they will notice how hard you worked and maybe they won’t, and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating, but ultimately, that doesn’t change anything because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for but to the gift itself.” – John Green

Secondly – perhaps somewhat more soberly – you never know when someone will not be here any more. Everyone’s time on this earth is temporary, and personally I don’t want anyone to leave without knowing how much their words and actions meant to me.

Thirdly, most people want feedback. They want to feel like they have made an impact; to know what they are doing in the world is making a difference to someone, somewhere. We’re all trying to find our way through the randomness life brings. Sometimes a little thank you can be a guide for us, to confirm we are going about things in the right way. It can make all the difference.

Here’s a story I illustrated for my friend Adam, to say thank you for his help after spending four months in Silicon Valley.

Fourthly, as the many studies of gratitude indicate, I also benefit from the practice, and have felt the effects of an increase in happiness.

There are many different ways to thank someone. Personally I have a few different stages depending on the level of gratitude I want to express. Saying “thank you” to strangers is easy, and takes no time. Writing emails is the next step up. Then writing a long, thoughtful letter. The final stage is illustrating or writing or singing for someone. This takes the longest time and is only used for those who have really made a deep and lasting impact on me. I prefer these approaches over buying objects for people, because it is more personal.

So if someone has done a good job, if someone has said something that has made you think in a different way, or see things in a new light. If someone has brought you soup when you were ill, or made you smile again after a rough day. If someone has held a door open for you, or allowed you to go in front of them in a queue, thank them (and – importantly – mean it). Take a moment, look them in the eyes, and tell them. Those two simple words take almost no time to say and it can change someone’s entire day (or maybe even their life).

Ironically, there is one person I forgot to thank. Sorry it took me well over ten years. Finally, then: thank you, Jack Webster, for shaping my personality in what you thought was an innocuous conversation. Thank you for changing me for the better.

 

 

What to do next

Download my free Fully Loaded Eating Double Pack. It’s a combination of my 2 best guides: Instant Willpower: How To Regain Control, Stop Inhaling Boxes Of Chocolates, And Start Showing Those Cravings Who’s Boss, plus What To Do When You Overeat.

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Strength Is Relative (You Are Stronger Than You Know)

You already know strength is relative: a 100kg squat might be quite difficult for the average person walking down the street, but a piece of cake to an Olympic weightlifter. What is strong for me is weak for them. Sure. But I recently realised strength is relative in a different way, too.

I was struggling with some difficult emotions recently, but I forced myself to go to a Strongman class at my local gym. I got there, started doing the first few exercises and it was then that I knew I couldn’t go on.

I told the coach I needed to leave (which is something I never thought I’d do, and that anyone who knows me would never think I’d do), I cancelled the next class that I was also going to do right after, and I left, walking five minutes to where I’d left my bicycle, trying not to break down, crying, in front of anyone.

I got to the place where my bike was, and in the quiet, away from the street and the people, I noticed something: I wasn’t hungry.

And then I cried.

You see:

  • In this moment, strength meant not making these emotions about food, despite having a history of disordered eating.
  • In this moment, strength meant crying.
  • In this moment, strength meant cycling home, having a shower, getting clean, and taking care of my body with gentle movements and mobility.
  • In this moment, strength was the knowledge that tomorrow I had the opportunity to come back and try again.

The old me would have seen quitting the gym as a sign of weakness. It would have berated myself for giving up, for not trying hard enough. I would have told myself I would never amount to anything if I keep quitting like this.

Now I can see that stopping where I did was actually an opportunity to show strength. Because strength is relative, not just from person to person, but from moment to moment.

 

What to do next

Download my free Fully Loaded Eating Double Pack. It’s a combination of my 2 best guides: Instant Willpower: How To Regain Control, Stop Inhaling Boxes Of Chocolates, And Start Showing Those Cravings Who’s Boss, plus What To Do When You Overeat.

Just enter your info below and I’ll send it straight to you.

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What Winter And War Can Teach Us About Living A Full Life

The temperature had dropped to minus 50 Celsius. There were only 4 hours of daylight every day. Planes were dropping bombs everywhere, and you and your best friends were crawling through the snow as gunfire surrounded you.

It was three months after the start of World War II, and the Soviet Union had invaded Finland.

The Finnish were outnumbered three-to-one in manpower, thirty-to-one in aircraft and a hundred-to-one in tanks. Given that St. Petersburg alone matched the entire population of Finland, the odds appeared insurmountable.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be a front line soldier? How hard it would have been to continue in such poor conditions, against such a superior force?

And yet, despite the odds, the Finns held their ground, leaving only a small part of the East side of their country to be taken by the Soviets.

Well, how the hell did they do that?

The Finnish claim their success was due to a concept they call Sisu.

It seems the word cannot be directly translated, but Arto Bendiken says it “refers to a stoic toughness consisting of strength of will, determination, and perseverance in the face of adversity and against repeated setbacks; it means stubborn fortitude in the face of insurmountable odds; the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and fighting with the will to win.”

Finnish soldiers were even reported saying: “They are so many, and our country is so small, where shall we find room to bury them all?”

They mentally transformed the small size of their country into a confident advantage.

I love stories like this. They make me wonder how we can apply such strategies into our own lives. I personally don’t believe it makes sense to unquestioningly fight, without adapting when things aren’t working. So I wondered how Sisu could tie into my personal methodology for living in a meaningful way.

First, let’s look at this methodology as it stands.

The No Ctrl Z Guide to Living a Full Life

Step 1: Dare to Fail.

No one likes to fail, but without leaning into your discomfort, you will never move forward. You will remain stuck.

Yes, you will feel scared, vulnerable — and you should honour those feelings inside you — but you must trust your work. You must trust yourself.

These don’t have to be a huge steps all at once: it’s about baby steps and small wins. Gently does it:

  • Daring to fail means picking up that pencil when the blank page is staring at you.
  • It means going to the gym, putting yourself under weights that intimidate you.
  • It means showing up.
  • It means speaking up.
  • It means telling someone you love them.

Step 2. Fail. (This is inevitable if you’re doing important work.)

I am the master of failure. I’ve struggled with a TONNE of stuff in my life, and I still struggle daily.

I’m currently struggling with a bad tendon injury in my leg. This has been going on for about a year. Now, I’ve had some pretty bad injuries before, but this one has even challenged my sense of identity. I’m a weightlifter. Being strong and independent, is who I believe myself to be. I don’t own a car; I cycle everywhere. So when I couldn’t walk, and had to keep relying on others to help me out… well, it was tough.

Without daring, and failing, you will never taste victory, nor learn from defeat.

How many times have you failed this week?

Failure can be used as an indicator of progress. I’m not suggesting you should injure yourself, but if you haven’t failed at anything in your daily life, maybe you aren’t easing yourself outside of your comfort zone enough.

Step 3. Find the Beauty in Failure (Learn and Adapt)

The final step to living a full life is where you remind yourself that failure is an event, not your identity.

It’s where you ask yourself: what can I learn from this experience?

After the initial grief of my injury, I adapted. I decided to work on things I don’t normally work on (like gymnastics, rings, and calisthenics). I was going to come back a stronger athlete. And even though I couldn’t even walk, let alone cycle, or go on adventures with my friends, I focussed on the things I could still do. I learnt that I need to take better care of myself. With this mindset, I was back at Step 1, daring to fail with new challenges I’d set myself.

But my injury regressed when my physio went on holiday. I got ill twice. I even sprained my wrist. This made my movements very limited, so basically all I could do was flap about on the floor like a beached whale and claim I was “working my core”.

There I was at Step 2 again, and I threw my toys out of the pram for a little bit. I was frustrated with my body.

There was — and still is — so much uncertainty. I am so used to my body being able to handle what I throw at it. I have no idea how long the injury will last, and what more I can learn from this experience. I’m still waiting for Step 3 to blossom.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many people you talk to, the answers just don’t seem to be appearing. And sometimes, no matter how many times someone tells you the answer, you have to find it out for yourself, the hard way.

Sometimes that means letting go of who you were, and embracing the uncertainty of who you will become.

So now what about those Finnish soldiers in the Second World War? What about Sisu? To me, it doesn’t make sense to go on with something that isn’t working. To me, Sisu has to encompass this ability to find beauty in the failure.

 

This is surely where Sisu lies. It’s the courage to start in the first place. It’s the strength to continue into uncertainty until you can find the lessons you need to move forward. And when you find those lessons, something will change inside of you.

So rather than continuing on, unquestioningly, Sisu gets you through the moments of weakness, doubt and uncertainty. Sometimes it will seem like there is nothing to be learnt. Life just sucks sometimes, and maybe in the future you’ll figure the lesson out, but maybe it will just be one of those sucky things.

But when the answers aren’t in front of you, Sisu is the energy that you can choose to surround yourself with.

  • When you’re tired from your 9-5, but need to work on your business idea. Sisu.
  • When your teenage daughter screams that she hates you. Sisu.
  • When you’re in chronic pain and can’t walk. Sisu.
  • When the whole world walks out. When it’s just you, and the ground beneath your feet. Sisu.

 

This article was inspired by James Clear.

 

What to do next

Download my free Fully Loaded Eating Double Pack. It’s a combination of my 2 best guides: Instant Willpower: How To Regain Control, Stop Inhaling Boxes Of Chocolates, And Start Showing Those Cravings Who’s Boss, plus What To Do When You Overeat.

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Creativity Can Heal

I always loved to draw as a child. When I was 16, I had to decide which A-levels to pursue, and I was torn between Art and Chemistry as my fourth (and final) subject. I reasoned that I could more easily do Art than Chemistry in my spare time (and it would probably be more useful for studying Maths and Physics at University). Except – when it came down to it – I didn’t draw in my spare time. My art stayed there; it became my past. I drew very, very occasionally – maybe once or twice a year. The guitar I once played for hours a day also got left behind. And I became almost afraid to pick it up again – just like that pencil.

This fear lasted for six years, from 2006 until 2012.

By this point I was deep into disordered eating, and had decided to turn my life around. I was working with a counsellor, and she suggested creative journalling to me. I was sceptical. I had already been writing Morning Notes, and lists of gratitude, so I had seen how writing had begun to help me, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of illustrating my words.

But, like all good mentors, she guided me and made me feel safe enough to dip a toe in. She said it didn’t matter what it looked like. That no one would see it. No one would judge it. That it was mine alone.

And it was.

I started doodling around my words; colouring them in. I felt like a child, and it was liberating. Too long I’d been writing, neatly on the line. I felt like I now had the “permission” to write as big or as small as I like, to push the pen so hard that it went through the paper, bend the spine of the book, tear it apart, and write my heart onto those blank pages.

On some evening during those weeks, I felt a strong impulse to binge eat, but instead, I picked up a pencil and for the first time in six years I started drawing.

I drew Daniel Conway’s Softly Sleeping. His version:

The version I drew that night:

It took all of my concentration, and by the time I had finished, the desire to eat was non-existent. This was the first glimpse of hope in a long time of darkness: that these desires to binge weren’t completely uncontrollable knee-jerk reactions that I absolutely had to listen to. In fact, they are just thoughts – thoughts that I usually became too lost in, so they seemed like the absolute truth. My drawing took my mind away from those thoughts. It was avoidance, but it worked. I avoided a binge for the first time.

As with all good therapy, we also talked about my childhood. I had some traumatic events as a child that I couldn’t seem get over – that were too painful to think about. But after gentle prompting and my experience at Gaia House, I decided to write “my story”, as though in fictitious prose. It was very difficult to write at times, but it was worth it. Here’s a message I sent to a friend after several revisions:

“I cannot recall the number of times I’ve replayed those events over in my head, but seeing them written down – reading and editing my work over and over – it almost feels like they are someone else’s; I almost cannot believe they happened to me anymore.”

Creativity was the perfect tonic.

In time, I let more creativity back into my life. Instead of turning to food, I turned to the piano. I wrote. I joined a life drawing class. My creative self was back! This, alongside mediation, consistent training at the gym, and nutritional love meant that – over time – I became free from my depression and eating disorder.

Not too long later, I got (with Daniel Conway’s permission) the tattoo of that image on my back. (Thanks to a very talented artist named Maris Pavlo at Hammersmith Tattoo):

It is a constant reminder to me that I am stronger than I think I am. And that, above all, my creativity never leaves. It always follows me closely, wherever I go.

 

 

What to do next

Download my free Fully Loaded Eating Double Pack. It’s a combination of my 2 best guides: Instant Willpower: How To Regain Control, Stop Inhaling Boxes Of Chocolates, And Start Showing Those Cravings Who’s Boss, plus What To Do When You Overeat.

Just enter your info below and I’ll send it straight to you.

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